Explore the different themes within William Shakespeare’s comedic play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Themes are central to understanding A Midsummer Night’s Dream as a play and identifying Shakespeare’s social and political commentary.
The dominant theme in A Midsummer Night’s Dream is love, a subject to which Shakespeare returns constantly in his comedies. Shakespeare explores how people tend to fall in love with those who appear beautiful to them. People we think we love at one time in our lives can later seem not only unattractive but even repellent. For a time, this attraction to beauty might appear to be love at its most intense, but one of the ideas of the play is that real love is much more than mere physical attraction.
At one level, the story of the four young Athenians asserts that although “The course of true love never did run smooth,” true love triumphs in the end, bringing happiness and harmony. At another level, however, the audience is forced to consider what an apparently irrational and whimsical thing love is, at least when experienced between youngsters.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream Summary and Analysis of Act 1
Act One, Scene One
Theseus, the Duke of Athens, is preparing the city for a large festival to mark his imminent marriage to Hippolyta. Egeus, a nobleman, enters the stage accompanied by his daughter Hermia, the man she loves named Lysander, and the man Egeus wants her to marry named Demetrius. He begs Theseus for the ancient Athenian right to either make his daughter marry Demetrius or have the power to kill her.
Theseus offers Hermia only two options: she must marry Demetrius or join a nunnery. He then departs with the other men, leaving Hermia and Lysander behind on stage. Lysander quickly convinces Hermia to sneak into the woods the next night so that they may get married at his aunt’s house outside of Athens. She agrees to the plan.
Helena arrives and laments the fact that Demetrius only has eyes for Hermia, even though she loves him far more than Hermia ever could. Lysander tells her to not worry since he and Hermia are sneaking away that night. Helena, in a final soliloquy, indicates that she will tell Demetrius about Hermia’s plans because that might make him start to love her again.
Act One, Scene Two
The assembled artisans gather and Peter Quince hands out several parts to a play they want to perform for the Duke’s wedding. The play is based on Pyramus and Thisbe and is meant to be a comedy and a tragedy at the same time. One of the actors, Nick Bottom, is afraid that if the make the lion in the play too real, it might frighten the ladies and get them all hung. They finally all agree to meet in the woods outside of the city the next night to rehearse their parts.
Two themes present in many of Shakespeare’s plays, the struggle of men to dominate women and the conflict between father and daughter, form a large part of the dramatic content of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In the first act both forms of tension appear, when Theseus remarks that he has won Hippolyta by defeating her, “Hippolyta, I wooed thee with my sword” (1.1.16), and via the conflict between Egeus and Hermia. Adding to this war of the sexes are Lysander and Demetrius, both wooing Hermia away from her father.
It is therefore necessary to realize that A Midsummer Night’s Dream is really a play about finding oneself to be free of these authoritative and sexual conflicts. The forest therefore quickly emerges as the location where all these struggles must be resolved. Hermia will try to seek her freedom from Egeus in the woods, in the process fighting a battle against arranged marriages and for passionate love. The buffoons, in the form of the artisans, add an undercurrent of comedy which at first masks the very real events unfolding on the stage. Yet later they will provide a terrifying (albeit funny) vision of what could have happened in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in the form of their Pyramus and Thisbe play.
Recalling Romeo and Juliet, Theseus offers Hermia the choice of the nunnery or death. As always in Shakespeare (note Juliet), this is not a viable option for a young woman who is beautiful. Hermia therefore decides to run away rather than face the certainty of death.
A remarkable aspect of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is that it contains a play within a play. The story of Pyramus and Thisbe serves to not only show the tragedy that might have occurred if the fairies had not intervened, but also to comment on the nature of reality versus theatre. Nick Bottom, afraid the lion will frighten the ladies, get them to write a prologue in which the lion is explicitly revealed as only being an actor. Adding to this, Pyramus must further provide a commentary in which he informs the audience that he is not really committing suicide but is only acting.
This play within a play is therefore used by Shakespeare to make a subtle point about theatre, namely the fact that it is only acting. Elizabethan times were not so far removed from the medieval past that actors lived with impunity, regardless of their roles. The threat of censorship was very real, a fact that Shakespeare makes laughable in Pyramus and Thisbe. A further purpose of pointing out the distinction between theatre and reality could have been to try and convince the public that it does not matter what is put on stage, since the audience clearly knows that it is only a facade. However, Shakespeare throws all of this into doubt with his suggestion in the epilogue that the play has only been a “dream.”
Act Two, Scene One
Robin Goodfellow, also called Puck, meets with a fairy who serves Queen Titania. She tells him that Titania is coming to the woods outside of Athens that night. Puck informs the fairy that it would be better if Titania and his master, Oberon, did not meet since they only quarrel when they do so.
Seconds later both Oberon and Titania arrive onstage, both accompanied by their respective fairy followers. Immediately they begin an argument, with both of them accusing each other of infidelity and jealousy. Titania has stolen a young boy whom she keeps with her and spends her time caring for. Oberon, jealous of the attention the boy is receiving, demands that Titania give the boy to him, a request she refuses.
After Titania departs, Oberon vows to get revenge on her for causing him embarrassment. He sends his puck to fetch some pansies, the juice of which is supposed to make a person love the first thing he or she sees upon waking up. Oberon’s plan is to put the juice onto Titania’s eyes while she sleeps, so that she will fall in love with the first animal she sees after waking up. Puck leaves him, and Oberon hides himself.
Demetrius and Helena arrive in the woods right next to where Oberon is hidden. Demetrius tells Helena to go away, and that he does not love her even though she has told him about Hermia and Lysander trying to run away. She threatens to chase him down if he should try to leave her in the woods.
Oberon, having overheard the entire conversation, decides to make Demetrius fall in love with Helena. He tells Robin Goodfellow to take some of the juice and go anoint the eyes of the Athenian man in the woods but doing so only when it is certain that the woman by his side will be the first person he sees. The puck agrees and goes off to carry out his errand.
Act Two, Scene Two
Titania calls for a quick dance in the woods with her fairies, after which they sing her to sleep. Oberon takes the opportunity to sneak up and drop the pansy juice onto her closed eyelids. Soon thereafter Lysander and Hermia, tired of walking and having lost their way, decide to go to sleep as well. They lie down, but Hermia demands that Lysander sleep a short distance away in order to keep up her sense of modesty since she is not married to him yet.
The puck enters, having vainly searched the woods for an Athenian. He spies Lysander lying apart from Hermia and deduces that this must be the hard-hearted Athenian which Oberon spoke about. Robin Goodfellow quickly drops some of the juice onto Lysander’s eyes.
Demetrius, followed closely by Helena, runs into the clearing where Lysander is lying asleep. She begs him to stop running away from her, but he refuses and leaves her there alone. Helena finally sees Lysander on the ground and shakes him awake, unwittingly becoming the first woman he sees when he opens his eyes. Lysander immediately falls in love with Helena and tells her that he deeply loves her. She thinks it is a cruel joke and tells him to stop abusing her.
Helena leaver, and Lysander decides to forget about Hermia and follow Helena instead. Hermia wakes up because she is scared about a dream she has had in which a serpent eats her heart. She calls for Lysander, but he is no longer near her. She then leaves her bed to go search for him.
The aspect of the woods as a place for the characters to reach adulthood is made even more explicit in this scene. In the dialogue between Helena and Demetrius, the woods are a place to be feared, and also are a place to lose virginity. As Demetrius warns, “You do impeach your modesty too much, / To leave the city and commit yourself / Into the hands of one that loves you not; / To trust the opportunity of night / And the ill counsel of a desert place, / With the rich worth of your virginity” (2.1.214-219). Thus, the forest can be allegorically read as a sort of trial for the characters, a phase they must pass through in order to reach maturity.
Hermia’s serpent serves as a sign of the monsters which are in the woods. This plays into the fact that the woods are not only a place which the characters must escape from but are also a place of imagination. Hermia’s fear of her dream, in which the monster and the danger are only imagined, is meant to show the audience that the danger in a play is only imagined by the audience; neither the play nor Hermia’s dream are real.
Act Three, Scene One
The rustics and artisans arrive in the woods and discuss their play, Pyramus and Thisbe. Bottom is afraid that if Pyramus commits suicide with his sword, it might seem too real and cause the ladies to
be afraid. As a result, they agree to write a prologue which tells the audience that Pyramus is really only Bottom the Weaver and that he does not really kill himself.
Next, Snout becomes afraid that Snug’s role as the lion will cause a similar fear. Thus, they undertake to write another prologue to tell the audience that it is not a lion, but only Snug the joiner. The men further decide that Snug should speak to the audience directly and that half his head should be visible through the costume.
Finally, they start to rehearse the play, with the puck eavesdropping in the background. Each of the actors makes several word mistakes, giving the phrases completely different meanings. The puck leaves when Bottom goes offstage, and reappears with Bottom, who now wears an asses head which the puck put on him. Bottom is blissfully unaware that he is transformed into an ass, and humorously asks the others why they run away from him.
At this point Titania wakes up and sees Bottom, with his ass’s head, and falls in love with him. She begs him to keep singing and making jokes for her and entreats him to remain in the forest with her. She then calls four fairies in to take care of Bottom and lead him to her garden.
Act Three, Scene Two
Robin Goodfellow, the puck, returns to Oberon and tells him what has happened to Titania. Oberon is overjoyed that Titania is being humiliated in this way. He then asks about the Athenian he wanted to fall in love with Helena. At this point Demetrius and Hermia enter the stage.
Hermia is convinced that Demetrius has killed Lysander in his sleep, and in her fury, she curses Demetrius for his actions. She finally storms away, leaving Demetrius to fall asleep in front of Oberon. Oberon, furious that Robin has ruined his plan to make Demetrius love Helena, sends Robin off to get her. The puck soon returns with both Helene and Lysander.
Helena believes that Lysander is only mocking her with his words of love and tells him that his phrases have no substance. Inadvertently she wakes up Demetrius, on whose eyes Oberon has applied his pansy juice. Demetrius sees her and also falls in love with Helena, saying, “O Helen, goddess, nymph, perfect, divine!” (3.2.138).
In the midst of this quarrel over which man loves Helena more, Hermia arrives. She is shocked by Lysander’s words and does not believe that he could possibly love Helena. Helena assumes that
Hermia is part of the mockery and chastises her for violating the close friendship which they have enjoyed since childhood.
Demetrius and Lysander begin to quarrel over Helena even more intensely, at which point Hermia breaks in and tries to stop Lysander. He spurns her, calling her a serpent and a dwarf, and finally leaves with Demetrius to fight over which man should get Helena.
Oberon and Robin step forward, having watched the entire spectacle. Oberon is furious about the mess that Robin has created and orders him to separate Demetrius and Lysander. He then tells the puck to make the men fall asleep, and to rub the juice on Lysander’s eyes and make him see Hermia when he awakes. Robin mimics the men’s’ voices, causing them to follow shadows and sounds and effectively separating them.
Act Three, Scene Three
Robin leads both men until they fall asleep on the ground. He then finds the two women and brings them close to their “lovers” before letting them fall asleep as well. His last act is to sprinkle the juice into Lysander’s eyes so that he will fall in love with Hermia when he awakes and sees her.
What is interesting in this scene is the interchangeability of the characters. Lysander and Demetrius, Helena and Hermia, each of them switches roles and becomes the other person. One of the primary ways that Shakespeare indicates maturity is to make his characters distinct. Thus, at this stage of the play the lovers are clearly not yet mature enough in their love to escape from the forest. Puck makes this clear by the way he leads them around in circles until they all collapse in exhaustion. It is this interchangeability that must be resolved before the lovers can fully exit from the forest.
The nature of this interchangeability is further evidenced by the characters themselves. Helena says to Hermia:
“We, Hermia, like two artificial gods Have with our needles created both one flower, Both on one sampler, sitting on one cushion, Both warbling of one song, both in one key, As if our hands, our sides, voices, and minds Had been incorporating. So, we grew together, Like to a double cherry” (3.2.204-210).
“Like to a double cherry.” This line sums up the reason why they are lost in the forest: it is necessary for them to become distinct from one another. After all, Lysander and Demetrius have been able to shift their love to Helena without noticing any difference whatsoever. Therefore, the forest is not only a place of maturation, but also of finding one’s identity.
Perhaps the most famous line from A Midsummer Night’s Dream is when Puck remarks, “Lord what fools these mortals be!” (3.2.115). His exclamation, directed at the ridiculous antics of Lysander, is also a direct jibe towards the audience. The nature of human love is challenged in this line, which implies that people will make fools of themselves because of love.
Shakespeare’s challenge of what is real versus what is only dreamed emerges in full force in this scene. Oberon decides that he will resolve the conflicts once and for all, saying, “And when they wake, all this derision / Shall seem a dream and fruitless vision” (3.2.372-3). Thus, the lovers are expected to wake up, each loving the correct person, and each having found his or her own identity.
Act Four, Scene One
Titania and Bottom, still with an asses’ head, enter the stage followed by Titania’s fairies. Bottom asks the fairies to scratch his head and is hungry for some hay. Titania, completely in love with him, orders the fairies to find him food. Together they soon fall asleep.
Oberon enters and looks at his sleeping Queen. He tells the puck that Titania gave him her young boy earlier in the woods, and so it is time for him to remove the spell from her eyes. He orders Robin to change Bottom back to normal, but first he wakes up Titania. She at first thinks she dreamed about being in love with an ass, but then sees Bottom still asleep by her side. Oberon helps her off the ground and tells her that tomorrow they will dance at the weddings of Theseus and the other two couples.
Theseus, Hippolyta and Egeus arrive where the lovers are sleeping. They are in the woods to celebrate the May morning with hunting hounds in preparation of the day’s ceremonies. Theseus sees the lovers and has them woken by sounding the hunting horns.
The lovers tell Theseus what they remember from the night before, and Lysander declares his love for Hermia while Demetrius speaks of his love for Helena. Theseus decides to override Egeus’ will and have all three of them get married in Athens that day. They eventually all depart for Athens.
Bottom wakes up and realizes that he has been abandoned in the woods by his friends. He recalls what happened to him only as a dream, a dream about which he says, “I will get Peter Quince to write a ballad of this dream. It shall be called ‘Bottom’s Dream’ (4.1.208). Bottom then returns to Athens.
Act Four, Scene Two
The artisans are lamenting the fact that the Duke Theseus is already married, as well as the other noblemen, which means they missed their chance to perform Pyramus and Thisbe at the wedding. Bottom finally arrives and tells the men to hurry to the festivities since there is still enough time to perform the play.
The transition of reality into only a dream emerges a second time in Act Four. Oberon tells Titania that Bottom will “think no more of this night’s accidents / But as the fierce vexation of a dream” (4.1.65-6). Indeed, this is exactly what happens: “The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen, man’s hand is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive, nor his heart to report what my dream was” (4.1.205-207).
It is the way that Bottom deals with his nightmare of a dream that is important and interesting. Not only is he not afraid of it, but he wants to turn it into a ballad. Turning a fearful nightmare into a fun song is crucial to understanding what Shakespeare has done with A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This play is the Romeo and Juliet theme woven into a play, taking the sad tragedy and converting it into comedy. Thus, Shakespeare is making a further comment about the nature of plays and acting, showing them to be a medium by which our worst fears can be dissipated into hilarity.
The nature of doubling emerges once again in this act, but for the last time. Hermia remarks that, “Methinks I see these things with parted eye, / When everything seems double” (4.1.186-7). This comment occurs right after Theseus has overridden Egeus’ desires and agreed to let Hermia and Lysander get married. Hermia is correct about the fact that this is a doubling of marriages. In spite of escaping from the confusion of the forest, there is still a lingering uncertainty about whether Lysander and Demetrius have been able to distinguish between Helena and Hermia. The effect of having a double wedding merely makes the newfound differences vaguer, making Hermia wonder if things still are in fact double.
Act Five, Scene One
In the palace where Theseus and Hippolyta reside, the guests are waiting for some form of after dinner entertainment. Theseus has Egeus read him a list of possible performances, and Theseus finally settles on ‘A tedious brief scene of young Pyramus and his love Thisbe: very tragical mirth’ as the play he wants to see performed. Egeus tries to dissuade him, telling him that the actors are workingmen will no talent, but Theseus is adamant that he watches them perform.
Quince delivers the prologue, a masterpiece of writing fraught with sentence fragments which serve to reverse the meaning of the actual phrases:
If we offend, it is with our good will. That you should think: we come not to offend But with good will. To show our simple skill, That is the true beginning of our end. Consider then we come but in despite. We do not come as minding to content you, Our true intent is. All for your delight We are not here. That you should here repent you The actors are at hand, and by their show You shall know all that you are like to know. (5.1.108-117)
The play is then performed, with numerous linguistic errors and incorrect references making it into a complete farce. Hippolyta condemns the play as being “silly” while Theseus defends it as being nothing more than imaginative. During the performance, Theseus, Lysander, Demetrius and Hippolyta add commentary which criticizes the action, and makes fun of the antics of the laymen.
At the end of the play both Bottom and Flute get up from where they are lying, supposedly dead, and offer to perform an epilogue or a bergamask (a type of dance). Theseus quickly intervenes and tells them they need no epilogue, but rather should only perform the dance, which they do.
Act Five, Scene Two and Epilogue
Puck enters with a broom and sweeps the stage. In a monologue he informs the audience that not even a mouse will disturb the lovers, and it can be inferred that he is protecting their bedchambers. Oberon and Titania arrive in order to bless the union of Theseus and Hippolyta. They perform a fairy dance and depart, leaving Puck alone on stage. Puck’s epilogue begs forgiveness of the audience and says: If we shadows have offended, Think but this, and all is mended: That you have but slumbered here, While these visions did appear; (Epilogue, 1-4) indicating that if someone did not like the play, then he or she should imagine that it was all a dream.
This final act at first seems completely unnecessary to the overall plot of the play. After all, in Act Four we not only have the lovers getting married, but there has been a happy resolution to the conflict. Thus, the immediate question which arises is why Shakespeare felt it necessary to include this act.
The answer lies in the fact that Shakespeare is trying to drive home a point about theatre; he wants to make it very clear that the ending to this play could just as easily have been tragedy, not comedy. The Pyramus and Thisbe play makes this very clear because it parallels the actual action of the lovers so closely. Pyramus and Thisbe decide to run away, a lion (one of the monsters in the forest) emerges and seizes Thisbe’s cloak, and when Pyramus sees the bloodied cloak he rashly commits suicide. This ending could easily have been the ending to A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
The final act also serves to challenge the audience’s notions about reality and imagination. Seeing the pathetic acting of the artisans, Theseus remarks that, “The lunatic, the lover, and the poet / Are of imagination all compact” (5.1.7-8). By this he means that it is imagination which makes people crazy, but it is also the imagination which inspires people. Without imagination it would be much
more difficult to enjoy a play, as evidenced by the farce of Pyramus and Thisbe, about which Hippolyta comments, “This is the silliest stuff that ever I heard.” Theseus helps her overcome this problem by saying, “The best in this kind are but shadows, and the worst are no worse if imagination amend them” (5.1.207,208). Thus, the imagination can solve all the problems.
Perhaps the most telling line of the last act is when Theseus asks, “How shall we find the concord of this discord?” (5.1.60). That is exactly what has happened in the play itself, namely there has been a resolution to the discord of the lovers in the initial scenes, which by the end has turned into concord.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream About Shakespearean Theatre
Before Shakespeare¹s time and during his boyhood, troupes of actors performed wherever they could in halls, courts, courtyards, and any other open spaces available. However, in 1574, when Shakespeare was ten years old, the Common Council passed a law requiring plays and theatres in London to be licensed. In 1576, actor and future Lord Chamberlain’s Man, James Burbage, built the first permanent theatre, called “The Theatre”, outside London city walls. After this many more theatres were established, including the Globe Theatre, which was where most of Shakespeare’s plays premiered.
Elizabethan theatres were generally built after the design of the original Theatre. Built of wood, these theatres comprised three tiers of seats in a circular shape, with a stage area on one side of the circle. The audience’s seats and part of the stage were roofed, but much of the main stage and the area in front of the stage in the centre of the circle were open to the elements. About 1,500 audience members could pay extra money to sit in the covered seating areas, while about 800 “groundlings” paid less money to stand in this open area before the stage. The stage itself was divided into three levels: a main stage area with doors at the rear and a curtained area in the back for “discovery scenes”; an upper, canopied area called “heaven” for balcony scenes; and an area under the stage called “hell,” accessed by a trap door in the stage. There were dressing rooms located behind the stage, but no curtain in the front of the stage, which meant that scenes had to flow into each other, and “dead bodies” had to be dragged off.
Performances took place during the day, using natural light from the open centre of the theatre. Since there could be no dramatic lighting and there was very little scenery or props, audiences relied on the actors’ lines and stage directions to supply the time of day and year, the weather, location, and mood of the scenes. Shakespeare’s plays masterfully supply this information. For example, in Hamlet the audience learns within the first twenty lines of dialogue where the scene takes place (“Have you had quiet guard?”), what time of day it is (“‘Tis now strook twelf”), what the weather is like (“‘Tis bitter cold”), and what mood the characters are in (“and I am sick at heart”).
One important difference between plays written in Shakespeare’s time and those written today is that Elizabethan plays were published after their performances, sometimes even after their authors’ deaths, and were in many ways a record of what happened on stage during these performances rather than directions for what should happen. Actors were allowed to suggest changes to scenes and dialogue and had much more freedom with their parts than actors today. Shakespeare’s plays are no exception. In Hamlet, for instance, much of the plot revolves around the fact that Hamlet writes his own scene to be added to a play in order to ensnare his murderous father.
Shakespeare’s plays were published in various forms and with a wide variety of accuracy during his time. The discrepancies between versions of his plays from one publication to the next make it difficult for editors to put together authoritative editions of his works. Plays could be published in large anthologies called Folios (the First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays contains 36 plays) or smaller Quartos. Folios were so named because of the way their paper was folded in half to make chunks of two pages each which were sewn together to make a large volume. Quartos were smaller, cheaper books containing only one play. Their paper was folded twice, making four pages. In general, the First Folio is of better quality than the quartos. Therefore, plays that are printed in the First Folio are much easier for editors to compile.
Although Shakespeare’s language and classical references seem archaic to some modern readers, they were commonplace to his audiences. His viewers came from all classes, and his plays appealed to all kinds of sensibilities, from “highbrow” accounts of kings and queens of old to the “lowbrow” blunderings of clowns and servants. Even his most tragic plays include clown characters for comic relief and to comment on the events of the play. Audiences would have been familiar with his numerous references to classical mythology and literature, since these stories were staples of the Elizabethan knowledge base. While Shakespeare¹s plays appealed to all levels of society and included familiar story lines and themes, they also expanded his audiences’ vocabularies. Many phrases and words that we use today, like “amazement,” “in my mind’s eye,” and “the milk of human kindness” were coined by Shakespeare. His plays contain a greater variety and number of words than almost any other work in the English language, showing that he was quick to innovate, had a huge vocabulary, and was interested in using new phrases and words.
In spite of parental objections, threats of death and banishment, an angry and armed rival suitor and meddling fairies, Hermia and Lysander manage to stay strong and together (apart from a short break when they are under the influence of fairy magic).
Lysander sympathises with Hermia’s distress:
The course of true love never did run smooth
Act 1 Scene 1
Helena loves Demetrius who doesn’t love her, and Demetrius wants Hermia, who doesn’t love him.
Helena promises Demetrius:
I’ll follow thee, and make a heaven of hell,
To die upon the hand I love so well.
Act 2 Scene 1
Helena’s chasing after Demetrius seems so pointless. He hates her. Likewise, Hermia will never love Demetrius. Love makes Helena and Demetrius miserable, whilst it makes the audience laugh. However, as a result of Puck’s magic, these two are brought together to find an unlikely happily-ever-after.
Oberon thinks that Titania has had an affair with the Duke of Athens. Why does he find a potion to make her fall in love with someone else for revenge?
Love makes people vulnerable and takes away their reason. Titania’s temporary love interest is absurd, so Oberon needn’t worry about feeling jealous.
Puck is delighted to report to Oberon that:
My mistress with a monster is in love.
Act 3 Scene 2
Titania is made to look ridiculous and whilst she’s distracted, Oberon takes away the little Indian boy. What’s more, Titania is relieved to be back with Oberon once the spell is broken.
How does Shakespeare remind us that love is often blind?
We see that love is blind when Titania falls in love with Bottom. The beautiful and powerful fairy queen wakes up and sees an “angel” where we see a ridiculous man who has been made even more ridiculous by the donkey’s head magic has given him.
“the course of true love never did run smooth,” Shakespeare suggests that love really is an obstacle course that turns us all into madmen.